Monday, July 2, 2012

Japan Girls: Poised for Cinderella surprise

'In the Spotlight' is a series that will profile each of the 24 participating teams at the London Olympic Games. It will provide a glimpse of what to expect as each squad begins its London quest. Between now and the Olympic opening ceremony a new team will be featured every 2-3 days. Today, we feature the Japanese women's national team.

The Basics:
The Japanese women weigh in at ninth in the FIH World Ranking, and are the third-highest ranked team from Asia, behind China and Korea. At the Games, they will play in Group B where they will meet both their Asian rivals in addition to the Netherlands, Great Britain and Belgium. Japan has a modest Olympic history, playing in only the two last games where they finished 10th in Beijing and eighth in Athens. But since their last Olympic appearance, the Japanese women have had two of their strongest showings on the international stage. The first was winning the Champions Challenge 1 in June 2011 in Dublin earning the right to move up to the Champions Trophy where their second success was a strong fifth-place finish. As a fun fact, Japan recently jumped on the nickname train, and are called ‘Sakura’ which means Cherry Blossom.

The Road to London:
Japan convincingly won the third and final women’s qualification tournament on home soil in Kakamigahara with a 5-1 victory in the final game against Azerbaijan. The Japanese women were under intense pressure and media scrutiny during the event and weathered the storm with grace. The only blip on the radar during the six-games was a 0-0 draw against Chile.
Players to Watch:
At 41 years of age, Akemi Kato will be not only the oldest player in the women’s hockey tournament, but also among the oldest athletes at the Games. But don’t be fooled, Kato is able to keep up with Japan’s speedy squad while brining the experience of nearly 400 caps to the table. Kaori Fujio and Rika Komazawa provide a nice one-two punch on offense. Fujio has exception scoring skills from the field, while Komazawa is strong on the penalty corner. Fujio, Komazawa, Kato and Sachimi Iwao have played for Japan in all three of their Olympic appearances.

Zenjiro Yasuda has guided the Japanese through their last few successful years. With each passing event, the team is stronger as evidenced through their rise in both the standings and the FIH event schedule. The veteran coach always speaks humbly of his squad before matches and puts little stock in pre-game standings or hype.
Japan has amazing speed and a high fitness level that allows them to push their opponents to brink. Their discipline and reserve both on and off the field is impressive to behold, meaning they are likely one of the teams least likely to be affected by the massive media hype around the games. The team has even been known to bow to its opponent after each match, regardless of the outcome. Japan has also a solid three or four players that can be counted on to score, making it tough to cover them on defense.

When the Japanese women’s team is on, they are precise, quick, and nearly unstoppable – the teams at the last FIH Champions Trophy in Argentina learned this lesson the hard way. But when Japan is off, they simply don’t function, as evidenced by the scoreless tie against Chile at the qualifier. Japan has to make sure its offense is in top form and avoid a rollercoaster performance – it’s one thing to pull out of a funk at a qualification tournament, but entirely another to perk up in the middle of the Olympics.
Crystal Ball:
The Japanese women’s program is on an upswing, but is likely a good Olympic cycle away from threatening to take a place on the podium. That being said, the Japanese are poised to pull off at least one major upset and should thrive in the Asian-heavy Pool A, giving them their best possible chance to go for a Cinderella surprise appearance in the semi-finals.

Dutch leave out Taekema..

THE Dutch men’s team announcement for the Olympics was one of the most highly-anticipated with many questions looming over the fate of its star players. And today’s final decision did not disappoint in terms of drama with big name stars Taeke Taekema and Jeroen Hertzberger left off the roster.

Taekema has played 239 games for the Dutch, while Hertzberger has been on the squad for every major international event since 2007. Just last week Hertzberger said in an interview that he expected to be named to the Olympic squad. Taekema's fate was a little less certain after he was left off the team ealier in the year for a handful of test series.
Also not making the cut were Quirijn Caspers and Seve van Ass, son of head coach Paul van Ass. But it was good news for veteran standout Teun de Nooijer, who made his debut back on the team in last week’s test match against Great Britain after almost eight weeks of being sidelined with injuries. He made the cut and will join the Dutch team in London.
For de Nooijer and the other 15 players making the cut, it is time to focus on the Games that lie ahead and try not to focus on the team omissions, but rather the squad’s potential less than a month from today.
Dutch 2012 Olympic TeamSander Baart (OZ), Billy Bakker (Amsterdam), Marcel Balkestein (OZ), Floris Evers (Amsterdam), Rogier Hofman (Bloemendaal), Robert van der Horst (Rotterdam), Wouter Jolie (Bloemendaal), Robbert Kemperman (Rot-Weis Köln), Teun de Nooijer (Bloemendaal), Jaap Stockmann [GK] (Bloemendaal), Valentin Verga (Amsterdam), Klaas Vermeulen (Amsterdam), Bob de Voogd (OZ), Mink van der Weerden (OZ), Roderick Weusthof (Rotterdam), Sander de Wijn (Kampong).

Reserves: Tim Jenniskens (NED), Pirmin Blaak [GK] (Rotterdam).